Parents are cautioned to closely monitor their children and adolescents who wish to fast during Ramadan to ensure their health is not negatively impacted by low intake of food and fluids.

A Dietitian at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), Nada Yaqoub, said although children below the age of puberty are exempted from fasting during Ramadan, they can fast a half- day and that the ability to fast all day varies from one individual to another, depending on their physical structure, health condition and the prevailing climatic conditions. She said:

Low fluid intake due to fasting in hot weather, like in Qatar, may lead to dehydration in children and adolescents; therefore, it is imperative that they drink plenty of water after sunset.’

Yaqoub stressed the importance of providing children and adolescents with balanced iftar meals comprising of carbohydrates, proteins and healthy (unsaturated) fats. Parents are also advised to make sure that their children consume enough fruits and vegetables to supply them with the necessary vitamins and minerals. She advised:

Suhoor (pre-dawn) meals should contain fiber, which lasts longer in the digestive system. They should also contain dairy products for calcium supplement, which children and adolescents need. Beverages such as tea, coffee and carbonated drinks should be avoided as they tend to cause further body dehydration.’

According to her, Suhoor can be delayed till closer to dawn to reduce the child’s fasting hours and mitigate the risks of dehydration and/or a drop in blood glucose levels (hypoglycemia). Yaqoub suggested:

To help prevent stomach upset after eating, children should avoid eating the Iftar meal quickly. It is ideal to eat and drink gradually while breaking the fast; starting with juice and dates. Parents should provide their fasting children with a variety of dishes so that they will not be bored from eating similar meals repeatedly…parents should encourage children and adolescents to do some light exercise; however, they should not allow them to participate in excessive physical activities during fasting hours to protect them from dehydration or hypoglycemia.’

Since low intake of food and fluid is a risk factor for hypoglycemia among fasting diabetic patients, children and adolescents with the disease must be closely monitored for signs or symptoms of hypoglycemia or dehydration. Signs of hypoglycemia may include heart palpitations, shakiness, anxiety, sweating, hunger and a tingling sensation around the mouth while severe signs and symptoms of dehydration can include extreme thirst, a lack of urination, shriveled skin, dizziness and confusion. Yaqoub said:

Should any of these signs or symptoms show, the affected children or adolescents must break their fast to avoid further complications…blood glucose may sometimes drop to a life-threatening level in diabetic children and adolescents; therefore, these patients must be supervised by a physician and dietitian.’

Tips and information about living well with diabetes during Ramadan, and throughout the rest of the year, are available at HMC’s website.